Royal Navy returns to the strike carrier business with first F-35B landing


The Royal Navy re-entered the strike carrier business as the first two F-35B Lightning II stealth fighters touched down on the flight deck of HMS Queen Elizabeth on September 25. Under the control of Royal Navy Commander Nathan Gray and RAF Squadron Leader Andy Edgell, the VSTOL aircraft landed on the deck of the supercarrier before taking off using the ship’s ski jump on the first of more than 500 take-offs and landings scheduled over the next 11 weeks.

The largest warship ever built for the Royal Navy, HMS Queen Elizabeth and its crew of 1,400 sailors, flight crew, and Royal Marines is currently in the Atlantic off the US Eastern Seaboard. This is the ship’s first visit to the United States where it will take on board the first of up to 24 of the supersonic fighters and carry out joint maneuvers with British and foreign naval vessels.

Though this is the first time a fixed-wing aircraft has landed and taken off from a British warship since HMS Ark Royal was decommissioned in 2011, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force pilots have continued training in the United States on an exchange program to maintain the skill sets needed for carrier operations. This included thousands of hours of simulator practice, test flying the F-35 variants, and working as flight crews aboard US Navy carriers.

The Royal Navy says HMS Queen Elizabeth and the F-35Bs will be put through a number of trials over next next few weeks in various sea and weather conditions as part of a task force that will include the Type 23 frigate HMS Monmouth and the US Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Lassen. Afterward, the carrier will pay a goodwill visit to New York City.

“No words can explain how it felt to turn the corner at 500 mph (805 km/h) and see HMS Queen Elizabeth awaiting the arrival of her first F-35 jets. I feel incredibly privileged,” says Commander Gray. “For a naval aviator, it is always a special moment when you spot the carrier in the distance, hidden within a gray expanse of ocean. HMS Queen Elizabeth is a floating city, home to hundreds of fellow sailors and Royal Marines, and it’s been a particularly poignant day.”

HMS Queen Elizabeth is scheduled to enter full service in 2021, followed shortly by her sister ship, HMS Prince of Wales, which is currently completing construction in Scotland.

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